Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett
“I am Jack’s smirking revenge.”
Twenty One Pilots exploded into focus with ‘Vessel’ in early 2013 after years of self-released songs, relentless touring and accumulating anticipation. On their Fuelled By Ramen debut, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun captured the essence of what they wanted Twenty One Pilots to be and showed it to the world. The world was divided. Now, two years later, they’ve come back swinging with ‘Blurryface’, a fourteen shot attack that pits insecurity against self-belief in bare-knuckled combat. There’s blood, guts and spirit throughout but while Fight Club is governed by rules, Twenty One Pilots don’t concern themselves with such frivolities.
“I don’t think Josh and I ever set out to be rebellious,” starts Tyler, sitting backstage of The Boston Music Rooms in London. Tonight, the pair will play their fourth sold out headline show in a row as the release of ‘Blurryface’ looms. Sitting side by the side, Josh and Tyler are far more reserved than their onstage antics and clenched fist recordings would suggest. Hands are wrung as they discuss the platform they find themselves on but throughout, they ensure that one other is given space to talk. “It’s hard for us not to see things through the filter of live music,” he continues. “We’re not intentionally trying to write the next song different to the last.” Instead what drove the sonic landscape of ‘Blurryface’ was the need for certain songs to fulfill their live desires. “We just want people to get the music however they can so they can come to a show and experience that music with us. That’s really where it all comes together and makes sense,” enthuses Tyler, “Face to face.”
“To me, it’s an improved version of what we’ve been doing but that’s just coming from a fan of my own band,” reasons Josh. “The goal is always to be improving. The songs are still different from one to the next, so that hasn’t changed,” he says with a grin.
“At the same time, there’s this common thread running through each of them. When I hear the songs together, it makes sense because they’re all describing a moment in time. A snapshot of where we are in our lives and what we’re going through,” explains Tyler “One of the things I wanted to tackle was the idea of insecurity. For me, it helped give these insecurities a name, a face and a seat at the table so I could stare across and address them. This record is focused on that character, Blurryface and trying to defeat him.”
“You’d be surprised what kind of things we have to go through,” reasons Tyler quietly. “You think guys who are on stage every night are really confident and full of themselves but that’s not the case. There are a lot of times where we’ve had to push through that self-doubt. I want to be transparent about the fact we’ve struggled with our own self-doubt and with the right mindset you can overcome that.”
“We come from a generation of kids who have the ability to get their hands on any type of music so we’re going to write every type of music,” Tyler states. “I want people to know there’s a creative freedom today. You don’t have to write a certain style journal, you don’t have to create a particular painting and you don’t have to fit a genre. You just do whatever you want to do.” That freedom has driven their music since they first started crafting it
“When I first started writing songs, the idea of people hearing them didn’t cross my mind,” Tyler admits. “The first time I ever wrote a song and showed it to my immediate family, I realised that as they were listening to my lyrics, they were hearing some really deep stuff that I haven’t shared before. There’s something about the fact it was inside music that made it ok. Music is a vehicle to express those things without being judged. There are definitely songs I’ve written that people will never hear because they’re too revealing. I don’t write strictly for myself very often. It’s usually double sided where it’s helping me but I intend on sharing it. You have to balance that tension and hopefully you don’t overstep it. Even talking about it now makes me nervous. What if we said something we weren’t meant to say on Burryface? I don’t know. It’s out in five days, we’ll find out then,” Tyler says with a sense of foreboding.
“I’m in a certain mindset when I write lyrics and it doesn’t always translate. I’ve toned it down. Believe me, what’s heard is the third or fourth pass. I show Josh the song, he reads the lyrics and if he says it’s ok, we just do it. We try and keep ourselves in check.”
That self-policing goes beyond the music they make as their unashamed honesty and positive approach sees them held as role models.
“It’s a responsibility. Even realising that is totally scary because we’re just kids,” concedes Josh. “I try not to think about it too much but when I do, its motivation for me to be a better person.”
“I think it’s interesting that both Josh and I are older brothers,” Tyler ventures. “We’re both the oldest of four siblings so in a sense, we’ve understood the role of trying to set a good example. We know what it feels like to fail at that and hopefully it’s prepared us for this sort of pressure. At the same time it’s something we want to step up to and be, but we also know we’re not deserving of it. We will always be humbled by the fact people will care about how we live our lives.”
There are two sides to every story and for every person queuing outside in the rain, there’s someone less into what Twenty One Pilots are trying to achieve. “They hate us, it’s perfect,” challenges Tyler. It would really bum me out if we were creating something vanilla. To not be a fork in the road with your art is wasting your power of creating art in the first place. We’re fine with polarizing people when they hear us.”
Put simply, Twenty One Pilots are for “whoever decides that it’s for them.”
“There’s a lot of things wrong with the world today and there’s people trying to fight a lot of evil out there but more times than not, someone’s worst enemy is themselves. That’s where we are right now and that’s what we feel comfortable talking about. I hope this music attracts people who can resonate with that struggle,” offers Tyler.
“We never wanted to break molds but after going through the abum cycle for ‘Vessels’ we really started to see the innards of what makes the music industry tick. You realise there’s a formula to art. We thought if you create something great, you’re going to be great but that’s not always the case. We felt deceived.” Tyler says with a genuine sense of hurt. “We know there’s this formula out there but at the same time we worked really hard to lower our heads and create an album that wasn’t affected by it and was true to us. We tried to get back to that mindset of when we were writing songs and didn’t know if anyone was going to hear them. It’s tough but the whole time we had each other.”
“One of the reasons I was so excited about playing music with Josh is because one of the first times we ever hung out, we talked about our dreams. It’s a very naked feeling talking about what your dream is but it’s safe to say we’re big fans of not putting a ceiling on them. Whatever you could imagine is probably what we’re going for,” Tyler reasons.
“I am Jack’s sense of limitless potential.”
Twenty One Pilot’s new album ‘Blurryface’ is out now via Fueled By Ramen.